Gag Order Sought in Alleged Priest Abuse Case

By Jeffrey M. Barker
February 8, 2005

STOCKTON -- The two stories of alleged sexual abuse by a Stanislaus County Catholic priest differ greatly.

The plaintiffs -- a Hughson woman and her two daughters -- say Father Francis Arakal aggressively invited himself into their home, groped the young girls, then joined another priest in browbeating one of the girls when she attempted to report the incident.

The priests and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Stockton, however, say the woman was romantically obsessed with a priest who worked at St. Anthony's Church in Hughson and later at St. Joseph's in Modesto. The allegations against Arakal, 51, arose only after that priest had rebuffed the woman, according to the defendants.

The two versions were made public on Monday, in mandatory pretrial court filings outlining the details of the civil lawsuit.

The case is scheduled for a jury trial later this month, a rare step in priest abuse cases.

Citing pretrial publicity, attorneys for the Catholic church on Monday asked San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Humphreys to place a gag order on participants in the case.

As a result, an attorney for the woman and her children, George MacKoul of Falmouth, Mass., declined to comment. ::: Advertisement :::

Attorneys for the church have also said it would be unethical to comment on a case nearing trial.

Last week, parishioners at St. Joseph's, where Arakal is associate pastor, spoke out in support of Arakal.

"He has an impeccable reputation," William and Eva Cappiello, whose family attends St. Joseph's, wrote in an e-mail. "He is loved and appreciated by a parish of over 5,000 members; not a stain or a shred of accusation from any other person! This man is particularly loved by children, including ours, because of his gentle and caring nature."

The case centers on a visit Arakal made to the plaintiffs' home in July of 2001. According to Monday's filings, Arakal and the girls began tickling one another.

During the tickling, Arakal allegedly groped the 13- and 11-year-olds.

But the defendants say the girls' accountings of what happened differ, and that their mother would have witnessed the entire event from about three feet away.

No claim of molestation was made until nearly a year later. Hughson police and the Stanislaus County District Attorney's office investigated. No criminal charges were brought against Arakal.

Also at issue is how the church -- specifically its pastor, Father Joseph Illo -- dealt with the incident when the 11-year-old girl attempted to report it to Illo.

According to the girl, Illo and Arakal shouted at her, called her a liar, and browbeat her into hyperventilating. Illo then began an "incredibly cruel plan" to push the family out of the church and the girls out of their Catholic school, according to court papers.

The defendants say, however, that the girl did not report the alleged molestation during the meeting with Illo. And when she became upset during the meeting, the two men state they called her mother and a counselor.


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